Vol. 5 Num 411 Sun. July 24, 2005  
Star City

SMS, Internet and e-mail make telegraph service obsolete

Only 20 years ago telegram was the quickest means of communication for the common people. Now the technology is almost out of date.

All the private and government offices including the President's office were once dependent on this service to deliver emergency news and official orders. There was no alternative. But now cellphone and email are available everywhere and telegram have lost its importance.

People at present no longer rush to the telegraph officeto send urgent messages. The employees of telegraph offices across the country virtually have no work, except sending a few telegraphic transfers (TT) for banks, and government and court orders.

"People working in the defence agencies still use the telegraph service. When defence personnel need emergency leave, they ask their family members to send a telegram. On the basis of this document they are granted leave on emergency grounds," said an official of telegraph department.

The defence offices sometimes send telegram to the soldiers on leave to call them back to the barracks in case of emergency.

The service is provided by the telegraph department under Bangladesh Telegraph & Telephone Board (BTTB).

Officials of the telegraph department said the department has become ineffective as the government is reluctant to take any step to modernise the department and its service.

"Modern technology is not the only drawback to our service. Even the present machines could be updated to give quicker and better service," said an official of the telegraph department.

About 2,000 employees the country over in telegraph offices now remain idle and telex machines remain silent. Most machines that have gone out of order have not been repaired. Only 34 out of 92 machines are now in working condition.

"We installed Gentex machines in all the 64 districts 10 years ago. Now we have direct connection with only 16 districts," said the official.

There are 400 local telegraph offices at the upazila level of which only 50 are now directly connected with the main network. The PCO (Public Call Office) in these offices have remained out of order for many years.

PCOs were the only source of delivering and receiving telegrams to and from these offices at upazila level. Telegraph department takes help of RMS (Railway Mail Service) where the PCOs are now working.

"These problems have slowed our pace of work. We were much faster 15 years back," said a telegraph official. "We cannot even give 100 percent guarantee of delivering a telegram," he added.

Many of the officials believe there is still scope for making the department effective. The government should take steps in this regard, they said.

"We believe we can be effective if the government introduces Internet and e-mail services -- the easiest, cheapest and quickest means of communication -- to our department," said an officer of telegraph department.

The cost of sending the first one to 10 words via telegram is Tk 2.50, which is more expensive than sending a Short Message Service (SMS)of 160 characters (approximately 25 words), which costs only Tk 1.50 to Tk 2.00..

But the government seems to have no interest in restructuring this department. "We have submitted a number of proposals for launching e-mail service but none of these saw daylight," he said.

For the last 14 years no new recruitments to this department had been made. Officials said the revenue from this department has gradually decreased over the past 10-12 years.

Many attempts to contact the Minister for Post and Telecommunications on this issue proved futile.

The once busy telegram section of the Bangladesh Telegraph & Telephone Board works with only a few of the machines currently in order. PHOTO: Syed Zakir Hossain